Fact Check Louisiana Senate Candidate Gary Chambers’ Claims About Marijuana Arrests

Gary Chambers Jr., a Democrat who hopes to represent Louisiana in the U.S. Senate, made headlines by posting a 37-second political ad in which he smokes marijuana while reciting a number of statistics about drug laws. marijuana and their application.

“Every 37 seconds someone is arrested for possession of marijuana,” Chambers said, his narration playing to the sound of a timer. “Since 2010, state and local police have arrested approximately 7.3 million Americans for violating marijuana laws, more than half of all drug-related arrests.”

He continued, “Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana laws than white people. States waste $3.7 billion each year enforcing marijuana laws. Most people that the police arrest are not dealers, but rather people with small amounts of pot, just like me.”

While many news outlets have focused on Chambers’ surprising use of marijuana in a political ad, PolitiFact wanted to dig deeper into the data he cites.

We found that Chamber’s claim was based on 2010 data referring to marijuana arrests in general. But the 37-second figure doesn’t hold up against recent numbers specific to marijuana possession, which have slowed in recent years, in part due to state changes in legalization.

The ad uses data from 2010

The ad cited the American Civil Liberties Union as the data source. A spokesperson for the Chambers campaign said the team mainly got its numbers from an ACLU report released in June 2013 and a slide show that appeared to be based on the same report.

“We also spoke with various experts in the field of cannabis lobbying to ensure we have industry-accepted numbers,” campaign spokeswoman Katie Dolan added.

She pointed out that the ACLU’s homepage for the 2013 report and slideshow both stated that “cops made a pot bust every 37 seconds.”

The ACLU report says its annual marijuana arrest data was “obtained largely” from FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data. The FBI’s UCR program collects law enforcement data annually from various municipal, university and college, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies.

The data has its limitations: participation in the UCR survey is voluntary, crime definitions may vary by local jurisdiction, and the same information is not always reported from year to year.

The ACLU noted that some regions (Illinois, Florida, the District of Columbia and the five boroughs of New York City) do not report marijuana possession arrest data by race to the FBI. Registration applications have therefore been filed to obtain this data.

In the report, the ACLU delved into the details: “In 2010 alone, there were 889,133 arrests for marijuana – 300,000 more than arrests for all violent crimes combined – or one every 37 seconds.”

The ACLU referred to “marijuana arrests” in general, meaning the number includes those arrested for crimes beyond simple possession, such as trafficking, so Chambers’ claim is wrong. in this regard.

In 2010, there were 784,021 arrests for marijuana possession, according to the ACLU. Using this value, arrests occurred at a rate less frequent than once every 37 seconds.

In an updated report released in 2020, the ACLU again relied on UCR data to examine marijuana arrests from 2010 to 2018. And while it doesn’t include an updated figure on the frequency of marijuana arrests, PolitiFact reached out to experts to find out what more recent data indicates.

Experts say arrests are now less frequent.

ACLU spokesman Aaron Madrid Aksoz said current data through 2018 now shows there were “6.1 million marijuana-related arrests between 2010 and 2018.” From there, he calculated that there was one marijuana-related arrest every 46.56 seconds.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the pro-marijuana legalization organization NORML, said annual state-level marijuana arrests have been on a downward trend since around 2009.

Data from 2019 and 2020 showed a significant drop in marijuana-related arrests. The decrease coincides with the increased legalization of marijuana. Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana with a ballot initiative in 2012, and since then 17 other states, Washington, DC and Guam have decriminalized recreational marijuana.

Jon Gettman, an associate professor of criminal justice at Shenandoah University, researched marijuana arrest data extensively and helped the ACLU compile its 2013 report. Gettman used FBI data from 2019 to do his math and concluded there was one marijuana-related arrest every 58 seconds.

Matt Sutton of Drug Policy Alliance used the FBI’s estimated number of arrests in 2020 to do the calculations using the most recent data available from the UCR. It showed there were around 1.16 million arrests for “drug offences” in 2020.

Of these arrests, 2.8% were for selling or manufacturing marijuana and 27.5% for possession, for a total of approximately 350,150 marijuana-related arrests and 317,793 arrests for marijuana possession.

So these calculations show that in 2020 there was one marijuana-related arrest every 90 seconds and one marijuana possession arrest approximately every 99 seconds.

Other Marijuana Advertising Claims

Chambers’ other claims in the ad have varying degrees of accuracy.

  • “Since 2010, state and local police have arrested approximately 7.3 million Americans for violating marijuana laws, more than half of all drug-related arrests.” This could use a little more context. FBI data shows that about 7.35 million marijuana-related arrests have been made since 2010. But the proportion of drug-related arrests has declined. In 2018, marijuana-related arrests accounted for 40% of all drug-related arrests in the United States. In 2020, this share fell to 30.3%.

  • “Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana laws than white people.” This is correct by rounding. The campaign pulled this data from the ACLU’s 2013 and 2020 reports.

  • “States waste $3.7 billion each year enforcing marijuana laws.” The figure appears to be based on very general figures on US spending on police protection. The United States spent $100 billion on police protection in 2017, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report. Marijuana arrests accounted for approximately 6.3% of all arrests that year. Assuming globally that the percentage of arrests equals the percentage of costs, the United States appears to spend well over $3.7 billion each year to enforce marijuana laws. Whether this is a waste is a matter of opinion.

  • “Most of the people the police arrest are not dealers, but rather people with small amounts of pot.” It’s true. Using FBI data, ACLU reports show that the vast majority of marijuana-related arrests are for possession. In 2020, FBI data indicated that approximately 91% of marijuana arrests were for possession.

Our decision

Chambers said, “Every 37 seconds someone is arrested for possession of marijuana.”

The claim was based on 2010 data on marijuana-related arrests, but is now outdated.

Experts, including an ACLU spokesperson, say more recent data indicates marijuana-related arrests are now occurring less frequently — at a rate of about one every 46 seconds, 58 seconds, or 90 seconds. , depending on how you approach the math problem. And data from 2020 suggests that an arrest for marijuana possession alone is happening every 99 seconds — still frequent, but at a much slower rate than Chambers’ announcement suggests.

We rate this claim primarily false.

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